Signs of Life :: Small Stories About Big Change

:: Chile Recognizes Indigenous Rights

:: Green Jobs Kindle Economic Hopes
Also ...
:: Four Countries Have Pledged to Go Carbon Free
:: More Americans Are Leaving Their Cars At Home

:: Virtual Memorials for War Casualties



:: States Back the Popular Vote

:: Exxon Faces Court Challenges
:: Towns Rein in Corporate Power

:: Support Grows for National Plan

:: A Chance for a New Life After Prison
Also ...
:: One in Every 99.1 Adult Americans is Behind Bars


Photo by Juan Pedro Catepillán.


Each year in the Fall, thousands of Chile's indigenous citizens march through the streets of Santiago in a spirit of historical resistance and celebration. Picutred here are Mapuche, who make up 87 percent of Chile's indigenous population.



Chile Recognizes Indigenous Rights

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Chile’s senate voted to ratify the International Labor Organization Convention 169, the foremost international policy on indigenous peoples. Introduced in 1989, the binding treaty has so far been ratified by 17 countries.

Revising a 1957 document that stressed assimilation of what were considered transitional cultures, ILO 169 affirms the rights of indigenous peoples to self-identification, self-determination, and self-management. The treaty also recognizes land and resource rights, customary laws and institutions, and traditional economies.

More than 1 million Chileans identify as members of the nation’s indigenous groups.

In April, President Michelle Bachelet responded to pressure from indigenous rights groups with promises to restore some traditional lands, promote direct participation of indigenous people in government, and make consultation and compensation mandatory for public projects on indigenous lands.

— Brooke Jarvis




New York’s Buffalo Reuse. Photo by Caesandra Seawell
Jobs like the ones created by New York’s Buffalo Reuse, which specializes in building deconstruction and salvage as an alternative to demolition, can mean a pathway out of poverty and an answer to the Buffalo school system’s high dropout rate. The enterprise uses its projects for apprenticeships and training for both adults and at-risk youth. Photo by Caesandra Seawell
Green Jobs Kindle Economic Hopes


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Although news about the U.S. economy has been sobering of late, there is one bright sector—an emerging “green jobs” market is on the horizon. Gatherings in Memphis and Pittsburgh, along with new green-labor alliances, show that the grassroots green jobs movement is rapidly gaining momentum.

The organization Green for All, which unites green jobs advocates from disadvantaged communities around the country, drew 1,000 people to a conference in Memphis on the 40th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. Under the name “The Dream Reborn,” the conference called for $1 billion by 2012 to create “green pathways out of poverty” for 250,000 Americans by greatly expanding federal government and private sector commitments to green jobs.

United Steelworkers and the Sierra Club have created a Blue-Green Alliance whose recent “Green Jobs, Good Jobs” conference in Pittsburgh also drew nearly 1,000 participants to demand public policies in support of green jobs.

The new climate protection campaign 1Sky is also calling for 5 million new jobs as part of a national mobilization for climate solutions.

Such grassroots energy has sparked state and federal action on green jobs. Washington state recently adopted the “Climate Action and Green Jobs” act, which funds colleges and technical programs that train workers for the jobs that will be required to reduce greenhouse gases. The act sets a goal of adding 25,000 green-collar jobs by 2050, and it makes Washington the fourth state—along with California, New Jersey, and Hawaii—to pass comprehensive binding limits on greenhouse gases.

At the federal level, tax incentives for clean energy and green jobs, which failed to make it beyond the early versions of the federal economic stimulus bill, are being considered for a second stimulus package.

And although the Bush administration has fought other attempts to address global warming, President Bush has gotten behind green jobs. At the end of 2007, Bush signed the Green Jobs Act, which provides $125 million for workforce training programs that target veterans, displaced workers, at-risk youth, and individual families who fall below 200 percent of the federal poverty line.

Meanwhile, candidates on all sides of the presidential race are calling for green economic investments. Senator McCain, for example, has pledged to create “profit-making [green] business” and “stimulate green technologies.”

Proponents believe green jobs will be a win-win on a big scale. A recent study by the Blue-Green Alliance shows that renewable energy investments could generate more than 820,000 new jobs across the U.S.

“The … green economy can generate a lot of good jobs at a far greater scale than a pollution-based economy,” says Jason Walsh of Green for All.

— Jeremy Brecher, Tim Costello, and Brendan Smith are co-authors of the book Globalization from Below: The Power of Solidarity.




Four countries have pledged to go carbon neutral

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Norway, Iceland, New Zealand and Costa Rica recently signed on to the UN Environment Programme’s Carbon Neutral Network.

Iceland has made the greatest actual strides toward this goal, with 99 percent of its residential homes heated by geothermal and hydropower. Four cities—Arendal, Norway; Rizhao, China; Vancouver, Canada; and Vaxjo, Sweden—also joined the UN pledge.

More Americans are leaving their cars at home.

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The U.S. Federal Highway Administration reports that in 2007, Americans cut back on driving for the first time in two decades. Faced with soaring gasoline prices, many have chosen more fuel-efficient transportation options, like the bus. Americans rode public transit 10.3 billion times in 2007, the highest transit use in 50 years, according to American Public Transit Association.


Photo by Sarah van Gelder
Photo by Sarah van Gelder

Green Workers Cooperative

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Gloria Walker is one of the worker-owners of the ReBuilders Source cooperaitve, which opened its doors in April 2008. The South Bronx co-op salvages and sells building materials otherwise destined for the dump. Green Workers Cooperative, which helped launch ReBuilders Source, aims to take the green-collar jobs movement to the next step by promoting worker ownership.



Virtual Memorials for War Casualties

Photos of coffins returning from Iraq were prohibited in the early years of the war. But survivors still mourn and need to know that their loved ones are remembered.

Enter the virtual monument. Two websites with near-identical addresses—iraqimemorial. org and—pay tribute to lives lost in the Iraq war.

The first, launched by the artist Joseph DeLappe, accepts proposals for paintings, sculptures, monuments, gardens, and conceptual art to honor Iraqi civilian deaths. The proposals range from the beautiful—a garden in the shape of Iraq—to provocative—backpack bombs that explode with confetti.

The second website, spearheaded by documentary filmmaker Robert Greenwald, marks the deaths of U.S. soldiers in Iraq through video memories collected from friends and family of those who died.

— Madeline Ostrander


Palaniappan Chidambaram

“When millions of people are going hungry, it's a crime against humanity that food should be diverted to biofuels.”

Palaniappan Chidambram, Indian Finance Minister, commenting on food prices, which have jumped 83 percent in the past three years.




States Back the Popular Vote

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Illinois on April 7th became the third state to pass a National Popular Vote bill fueled by dissatisfaction with the Electoral College.

The bill grows out of a statelevel movement to make the popular vote decisive, rather than the Electoral College vote. The National Popular Vote campaign urges states to pass laws that turn all of their electoral college delegates in the presidential election over to the popular vote winner. But it will only take effect when states that together have a majority of Electoral College votes have signed it into law.

Similar bills have passed in New Jersey and Maryland. One or both legislative chamber has adopted the bill in eight other states.

— Noah Grant is a YES! editorial assistant.




Exxon Faces Court Challenges

The ExxonMobil Corporation is facing challenges on all sides over environmental violations and rights to oil reserves.

The Venezuelan government recently won a dispute over a contested oil exploration project, after President Hugo Chavez removed the project from Exxon’s control and placed it in the hands of state oil firm Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. Exxon sought $5 billion in compensation, and successfully petitioned courts in the U.K., the Netherlands, and the Dutch Antilles to freeze Venezuelan assets. A British judge lifted the freeze in March. Venezuelan energy minister Rafael Ramirez lauded the decision, “Our people won, our country won, our homeland won.”

The giant oil conglomerate also lost a recent appeal over a $112 million fine awarded to a Louisiana man who claimed an Exxon contractor had dumped radioactive waste on his land. The Supreme Court refused to consider Exxon’s appeal.

Meanwhile, the company is pursuing another Supreme Court appeal to avoid paying $2.5 billion to Alaskan natives and fishermen whose lives and businesses were destroyed by the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill. Alaska Governor Sarah Pailin called the court’s decision to hear Exxon’s plea, “a kick in Alaska’s collective gut.” Thousands of victims of the spill, who would have been eligible to receive damages, have died while Exxon stalled payments through court appeals.

— Madeline Ostrander


Stefan Mackowski, 3, flanked by sisters Sarah and Shannon, enjoys the water on Halfmoon Lake in Barnstead, N.H. Photo by Channing Johnson for YES! Magazine.
Stefan Mackowski, 3, flanked by sisters Sarah and Shannon, enjoys the water on Halfmoon Lake in Barnstead, N.H. Photo by Channing Johnson for YES! Magazine.

Towns Rein in Corporate Power

Stefan Mackowski, 3, flanked by sisters Sarah and Shannon, enjoys the water on Halfmoon Lake in Barnstead, N.H. Photo by Channing Johnson for YES!

At a town meeting held March 15, the citizens of Nottingham, New Hampshire, banned corporations from privatizing the town’s water resources. The Nottingham Water Rights and Local Self-Government Ordinance also denies constitutional protection for corporations infringing on the rights of human and ecological communities in Nottingham.

“People in communities across the country are so used to having to go to the back of the democracy bus and give up their seats when the corporations walk in,” said Ben Price, project director for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF).

“The hurdle is to get over the consciousness that says that the people don’t have the right or the authority to have a say in what their community will look like,” he said. “To change that will require a very large grassroots action, which we’re seeing the very beginnings of here.”

CELDF provides legal services for groups and individuals challenging corporate personhood. Nottingham’s ordinance makes it the 11th municipality in the United States to reject corporate constitutional protection.

In February, Mahanoy Township, Pennsylvania, passed a law prohibiting the spreading of sewage sludge as fertilizer, a practice that many claim endangers human health by dumping pathogens and heavy metals onto the soil. The Mahanoy ordinance denies corporations the same constitutional rights and protections as people, and recognizes the rights of nature and natural communities.

In 2006, Barnstead, New Hampshire, a neighboring town of Nottingham, amended its water rights ordinance to include the rights of nature.

— Margit Christenson

Interested? See YES! #43, Stand Up to Corporate Power



Happy People

“With age comes happiness.”

Says Yang Yang, a University of Chicago sociologist, who conducted a 30-year survey of thousands of Americans. Among the study’s findings:

• The older people got, the likelier they were to report being happy
• Baby boomers are not as content as other generations
• African Americans are less happy than whites
• Men are less happy than women





Cover illustration from YES! Magazine issue 39: Health Care For All
Read more articles on Health Care for All.

Support Grows for National Plan

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A plan promoted by health advocates, doctors, and federal policymakers aims to bring relief to the nearly 50 million Americans without health insurance.

Representative John Conyers (D-MI) has reintroduced H.R. 676, a bill to create a single-payer health care system, similar to what is offered now by Medicare but available to all Americans. The bill has been around for five years, but has gained traction and support from groups like the National Nurses Organizing Committee, the American Public Health Association, United Steelworkers, and more than 200 labor groups.

The presidential campaign has also put a spotlight on the American health care crisis, with Democratic presidential hopefuls advancing plans for universal or near-universal health coverage.

— Noah Grant is a YES! editorial assistant.



Photo by
Photo by

Cradle to Prison Pipeline Summit

Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, attends a candlelight vigil at the Cradle to Prison Pipeline Summit at Howard University in September. The summit addressed the largest driving force of the pipeline: poverty, exacerbated by race. One in three African- American boys born in 2001 will spend time in prison.



Cover of the book Beyond Prisons
Read a review of Beyond Prisons

A Chance for a New Life After Prison

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In an effort to address rising prison populations, Congress in March passed the Second Chance Act, a measure authorizing $362 million for programs that serve prisoners, former prisoners, and their families.

Two of three ex-convicts will reoffend within three years, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The bill aims to lower this figure through education and job training, transitional mentoring programs, and drug treatment both during and after incarceration. It also offers alternatives to prison for parents convicted of non-violent drug offenses and allows prisoners access to family-based drug treatment.

“There is an urgent need for criminal justice reform,” said Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL), the bill’s sponsor. “Prisoner re-entry is one aspect of this very serious issue.”

— Brooke Jarvis




One in every 99.1 adult Americans is behind bars,

… a new Pew study finds, the highest in U.S. history and by far the highest in the world. The report cites tougher sentencing laws as the cause. The U.S. prison population has tripled in the last 20 years, even as violent crime rates have dropped.

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