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July 6, 2006

The Weekly Wrap

The Rise (or Fall) of Public Access TV

Eric Rofes, 1954-2006



ROAD APPLES: Dennis Mayo phoned last week from atop his horse, and as he rode around the arena, clippety-slow-clippety-clop, he amiably asked just where I got that horse doo-doo about the BlueRibbon Coalition's being "financially supported by major timber, petroleum and mining companies," as stated in last week's report on a wilderness pollsome are calling it a push pollsponsored by the BRC. His question echoed those raised by some of our letter writers in this week's paper.

"From a report the U.S. Public Interest Research Group did in 2000, called 'The Blue Ribbon Coalition: Protector of Recreation or Industry?'" I said.

"Naaay," whinnied the horse.

"I can guarantee that, locally, there ain't nobody [like that] givin' us money," said Mayo, who is a BRC representative here on the North Coast. "The stuff I do here is outta my pocket."

The U.S. PIRG report contained a weighty list of "corporate funders of the BlueRibbon Coalition," their names said to have been culled directly from issues of the BlueRibbon Coalition's magazine between 1991 and 1998. Among the more than 50 timber, petroleum and mining outfits listed were Boise Cascade Corp., Louisiana Pacific Corp., Battle Mountain Gold Co., Echo Bay Minerals Co., Meridian Gold, Chevron USA, Exxon Co. USA, Western States Petroleum Association and several western states' mining associations (including from Nevada, the third largest producer of gold in the world.)

Well, that was then. This is now, said BRC's Western Representative Don Amador last week, adding he didn't know where U.S. PIRG came up with some of those big names. "That list is old; it's out of date," Amador said, adding he "really wished" the BRC were funded by big corporations. "The lion's share of our money comes in small donations. We're a grassroots group. It's almost ludicrous to make those assumptions, when we get $100 from, even, the California Forestry Association. That's chump change compared to what big industry gives to green groups."

But what happened to the heavyweights? Well, said Amador, in the early days the BRC (founded in 1987) was associated with the Wise Use movement (that conservative backlash against environmental regulations). "And then, in the mid- to late-'90s, we changed our focus purposely to work on recreational access to public land," he said. The BRC's current membership list, predominated by off-road clubs and related shops, reflects that sharpened focus.

According to the BRC's website, it became a non-profit 501(c)3 corporation in 1999. Amador said members, who each pay $20 a year in dues, fuel the group (currently there are 12,000 individual members, he said, plus 1,100 businesses and organizations). But the dues fall far short of the BRC's total revenues, judging by figures in the BRC's tax reports posted on their website. "Our members donate double and triple [their dues] throughout the rest of the year," Amador said.

U.S. PIRG did not get back to us by press time.

— Heidi Walters



ST BERNIE'S SAVED: Generations of St. Bernard's Catholic School devotees — students, alumni, parents, staff — must have exhaled a collective "Whew!" last week, after the school's board of directors declared the almost 100-year-old Eureka institution would indeed be open in the fall. Not much more than a month earlier, the board had issued a warning that the school would have to close if enrollment couldn't be boosted and more money raised. The drop-dead date to announce the school's fate was June 30. A couple days before that, the board announced that while it still hadn't met its enrollment goals, it was gaining ground on fund raising and in reshaping the school's business approach to make it more self-sufficient. But the school might still have to consolidate the pre-K-12 grades into one building, and perhaps trim staff, said the board.

"There's still a lot of work to be done, I can tell you that," said parent Darroll Meyer. He has coordinated the drive to boost enrollment in the school's international academy, which the board views as one key to the school's sustainability. (For more on St. Bernard's and the challenges it faces, see "It's a Family," June 22).

— Heidi Walters



Journal Google Earth Newsletter buttonSTROLL WITH US: None of the traditional "Five W's" of journalism are as simple as they're made out to be, and the one-word answers provided in the standard-issue news story often obscure or cheapen everything interesting. Who? John X. Johnson — but is he a saint, a rake, a genius, a renegade? What's inside his head and his heart? When? Yesterday at ten 'til noon — but maybe, if you think about it another way, ever since the last election, or the Civil War, or the moment apes started walking upright.

So it is with "where." You can read the words a thousand times — "the corner of 10th and L," "Hobie's Market," "Six Rivers National Forest," "the Nanning Creek watershed" — but unless you have some intimate knowledge of the places in question, these cease being descriptions and start becoming mere code words, floating concepts detached from their intended meaning.

Starting this week, the North Coast Journal will begin harnessing the awe-inspiring technology behind one of the most disruptive new pieces of software in recent years — Google Earth — to combat this tendency, and to illustrate our stories in ways that our predecessors five years ago never would have imagined possible. And we'll be doing it with our weekly Google Earth newsletter, a companion to the newsprint Journal and the electronic Journal.

As far as we know, we're the first newspaper in the world to do this, and we've got a wealth of information stocked up and ready to go. It's easy to use — just go to our web site and download a small file that should open up in your Google Earth program automatically. (You may have to upgrade to Google Earth 4, still a free program.) Click on the blue headlines on the left-hand side of the screen, and the program will take you to the locale of a story in this week's Journal. A bubble will pop up, offering you a link to the story illustrated in the scene. If you want, you can type in your address and get driving directions. At other times, the view will zoom out, and parts of the ground beneath Humboldt County will glow an unnatural color, highlighting one of any number of themes: Pacific Lumber's land holdings, neighborhoods where the poverty rate is above 50 percent, county parcels zoned for industrial use — a world of information, beautifully presented. Use the controls in your program to get a close-up of these areas, to tilt back and look at them in perspective, or to fly around them at your leisure.

Our Google Earth newsletter is still very much a work in progress. We'll be adding new features over the coming weeks, and as we hone our chops we hope to make it ever more interesting and useful. We hope you enjoy it.

— Hank Sims


The Rise (or Fall) of Public Access TV


If public access television is supposed to represent the voice of a community, Humboldt County has been effectively muzzled by the state of public broadcast media over the years. Despite three separate channels devoted to public, educational and governmental programming (known as PEG), only a fraction of a very diverse and impassioned Humboldt community actually has been able to get its message out over the airwaves. Many factors have contributed to Humboldt's paltry public access, underfunding and arcane equipment being at the top of the list.

But all that will potentially change with the dawn of Humboldt Area Access, a community media center designed to educate community members by facilitating the production of original public programming through state-of-the-art equipment. The media center (HAA) will be housed at Eureka High School in the former Art/Industrial Ed building, where construction should begin in the next few months. Barring the passage of potentially troublesome state legislation, HAA will be a model for community access.

The concept of a community media lab in Humboldt has been brewing for a number of years. In 2003, the incorporated cities on the North Coast re-negotiated their franchise agreement with Cox Cable in an effort to stay up-to-date in the age of Internet and satellite TV. As a part of that agreement, the cities decided to put a percentage of the cable company's franchise fees into funding a community media center, monies that would also fund up to six public access channels. They ultimately decided to build the media center at Eureka High both because of the school's central location and because placing it at a school would reinforce the educational mission of HAA.

Phillip Middlemiss has taught media and film classes at Eureka High for years. He is licking his lips at the opportunities for education and innovation he sees in the new media center. He sees Humboldt Area Access as a chance for students to not only explore their creative voices, but to engage and connect with their community as well.

"We need to teach people how to be creative," he said. "The best way to teach personal expression is to provide the tools and then get out of the way."

Middlemiss believes that students will thrive if given the chance to produce programming "that is as wild, rough, questionable-in-taste, polished and professional as the students who create it." If students have an outlet to demonstrate what really goes on in their lives, Middlemiss said, they will not just be the delinquents local media make them out to be.

"Students will become more interested in the community when the community is more interested in them," he said.

But the Humboldt Area Access center is not just for high school students. It will be open to anyone in the community who wants to produce original programming, and will have all the equipment and a trained staff available to help anyone get their message on the air. Eileen McGee, who serves on the HAA board, will be teaching an Adult Ed class with Middlemiss about how to film and edit digital video to encourage more fodder for public access.

McGee produces Seeking Solutions, a program on Channel 12 that explores local public policy issues. She believes that robust public programming, such that HAA would allow, is a key component in bringing together a community as diverse as Humboldt County.

"Using visual media to share cultural traditions is a great way to celebrate our diversity," she said in an email.

Sean McLaughlin, the newly hired Executive Director of HAA, sees unlimited potential in Humboldt's media lab. McLaughlin has served as president of Akaku: Maui Community Television since 1997. He sees some interesting similarities between Humboldt and the Hawaiian community he served. Like the rural island communities of Maui County, he said, Humboldt is a collection of "distinct and somewhat disparate" communities, separated by a sea of redwoods. He thinks the foundation that has already been laid for HAA will ensure its success.

"The synergy with students and the community together creates a phenomenal spark that will really excite people," he said from his (former) office in Maui.

But all that could slip away in Humboldt if a bill working its way through the legislature is passed in its current form. Assembly Bill 2987 is part of a broader national movement to allow phone companies such as AT&T to offer cable television services. As competition increases, supporters argue, cable prices will be driven down and consumers will be better served. The bill passed through the Assembly on a rare consensus vote, 77-0.

The bill was bitterly opposed by the cable industry, sparking one of California's most expensive lobbying showdowns of the year. Cable providers felt phone companies would have a distinct advantage over their traditional television competitors since most cable companies are locked into costly franchise agreements with the cities they service. After a delayed vote in the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee, an amendment was written into the bill that would allow cable companies to tear up existing contracts with cities.

The cable companies, not surprisingly, changed their tune on the bill and now support it fully. It passed the Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee, again with a consensus vote (9-0), and will be one of the first orders of business for the Senate Appropriations Committee when the Senate reconvenes next month. The current language of the bill is frightening for many of California's cities, placing the very notion of public access in jeopardy, not to mention bigger projects such as Humboldt Area Access.

State lawmakers admit there are still questions that need to be answered in the specific language of AB 2987, chief among them being the continued health of local public access. Wendy Purnell, director of public affairs for Sudden Link Communications in Eureka (formerly Cebridge Connections, which purchased Cox Cable in May), said, "I'd hate to speculate because [AB 2987] is pending legislation, but some of the new language in the bill could definitely impact the agreement we have for the media center."

Sue Buske, a "guru" of cable television contracts, helped re-negotiate the franchise agreement with Cox in 2003 on behalf of local cities and the county. She has been following the progress of AB 2987 very carefully and says that if passed in its current form, the bill could indeed eliminate the existing contract. But, she said, "literally hundreds of people have been speaking to the harmful effects" the bill could have on community media centers. If cable companies are allowed to back out of their contracts with local governments, those governments will no longer collect the fees that allow them to fund things like the HAA. She has faith that something will eventually be worked out to maintain the health of public access.

"It's extremely evident that the Senate and Assembly staff hasn't had time to grapple with several vexing issues," she said, specifically protecting existing local contracts and the franchise fees that come with them.

Sean McLaughlin agrees that AB 2987 is "scary, but getting less scary." After attending the Alliance for Community Media International Conference in Boston next week, where he will receive the prestigious Buske Leadership Award for his public policy service, he will come to Eureka to begin work at Humboldt Area Access. He is confident the media center will flourish.

"Building a media center at this particular moment in history gives Humboldt the opportunity to have one of the best new media centers in the country," he said. "It can be a model for others."


Eric Rofes, 1954-2006


photo of Eric RofesAs a professor of education at Humboldt State University, Eric Rofes fused academia and activism in a rare and dynamic combination that inspired students and colleagues alike. He brought his skills as an organizer, passion for justice and keen intellect to work that spanned the university.

To the shock of friends and colleagues, Eric died Monday, June 26, of a heart attack in Provincetown, Mass., where, after two decades of research, he was completing his 13th book. He was 51 years old. A vibrant and influential leader, Eric's sudden and untimely death is being mourned around the world.

"Eric was an absolute giant of the gay movement — as an intellectual, an organizer and an activist," said feminist anthropologist Gayle Rubin. "He was a massive presence, whose influence was felt across a broad range of constituencies ... It's as if a mountain has suddenly vanished."

This mountain of a man and national leader chose to be in Humboldt for what turned out to be the last chapter of his illustrious career. After joining HSU in 1999, Rofes continued to present his work nationally and internationally. He could have rested on his already impressive laurels, but Eric immersed himself deeply in the work of community building and cultural transformation at Humboldt. "For those of us lucky enough to work with him at HSU, Eric Rofes was a life force," said Kim Berry, Women's Studies program leader. "More than any other person on campus he worked systematically to build institutional change for social justice." Most recently, Eric co-chaired HSU's Diversity Plan Action Council (DPAC), which he believed could be the catalyst for diversifying HSU and transforming the university culture, a process that he knew would require strong leadership and sustained effort.

Among Rofes' long-term legacies is the groundbreaking North Coast Education Summit, which he built from scratch five years ago. With a radical focus on education, democracy and social justice, the conference has grown exponentially each year, bringing together hundreds of educators, students and community activists from California and beyond. The Summit connects people across disciplines, across regions and across differences of race, class, gender and sexuality. Eric consistently saw fostering relationships across differences as a key to effective organizing.

"Eric never took his friendships for granted, nor his positions on the issues he cared deeply about, always looking for greater complexity and possibilities for fostering change," said UC Berkeley lecturer and long-time friend Will Seng. "He changed the way we now think of gay men's sexuality and, by his example, prompted many gay men to take a closer look at feminism, class and racism."

Eric brought those complex intersections into his organizing, his personal life, and his academic projects. He was at the forefront of the Multicultural Queer Studies minor at HSU, the first of its kind in the nation, designed as a rigorous academic program and to help build intellectual, emotional and political community. Rofes wanted to serve HSU students and offer a model for the nation of a queer studies program that would study sexuality and gender as part of a complex matrix that includes race, ethnicity, class and culture.

"Eric and his partner Crispin were the first gay people we met in Humboldt when we were looking to move here from Southern California," said local organizer Todd Larsen, speaking of Eric's impact on his life and community. "Their friendship gave us a good feeling about moving to Humboldt. Eric was not only a mentor to my partner Michael Weiss and myself personally, but also an influential part in helping us develop Queer Humboldt. He motivated us to be involved in community-building efforts, including and events to help bridge gaps between the LGBT and other members of our community." Todd felt that one of Eric's many talents included helping people "think about things from a different perspective. It was like he had a bigger view of the world—a view that others may not see at first."

Above all else, Rofes was a passionate educator. "Eric was an extraordinarily gifted teacher whose courses were rigorous and often life-changing," said education professor Ann Diver-Stamnes. "His passion for teaching was fueled by his commitment to students and by his belief in education as having the power to transform society and reinvigorate democracy. This belief guided his teaching and led him to develop pioneering courses such as Education for Action and Gay and Lesbian Issues in Schools."

David Bracamontes, outreach/program coordinator at the MultiCultural Center, remembered the profound impact Rofes had on his life. "I first met Eric at a weekend seminar he taught, and that weekend changed who I was as a student and a gay man. For the first time I had a role model, someone within my community that I could respect and admire. This year I returned to HSU as professional staff, and I was honored and humbled to work side-by-side with this man who had changed my life."

Rofes inspired generations of students, from his days as an elementary school teacher in the 1970s to his present-day students at HSU. "Eric Rofes was a remarkable scholar and teacher," reflected education graduate student and Ethnic Studies lecturer María Corral-Ribordy. "He had the capacity to see the brilliance in each of his students and nurture our continued development from that point. His uncompromised high expectations demonstrate great respect for our individual potential." Eric inspired María to pursue a career in education, encouraged her community activism and actively mentored her in both efforts. She and Eric were among the co-founders of, a grassroots website that facilitates dialogue and activism in the struggle for marriage equality.

In his article "Marriage and Civil Disobedience," Rofes described his 2004 San Francisco City Hall wedding: "I joined thousands of people this weekend and defied the laws of my state in a brazen act of civil disobedience. We didn't chain ourselves to a building, sit down in the middle of a crowded intersection, or occupy a public official's office until our demands were met. We simply got married." He argued for legal efforts paired with well-strategized direct action, pointing out that civil disobedience can "take abstract and highly charged issues and stamp human faces onto them."

His work was always visionary, but also pragmatic. "He lived a life of inspiration as a servant and scholar for the people. Unassuming yet undeniable, he wielded a practical passion for change, beyond the armchair of revolution," recalls former HSU Ethnic Studies lecturer Issac M. Carter.

"I want to be a voice affirming the value and heroism of long-term commitment to democratic processes of community organizing," Rofes said in a 1998 speech. "We may hate the endless meetings, be sick of licking envelopes, feel frustrated working across different identities and political visions, and be drained by community cannibalism, but we've got to continue doing the work."

MultiCultural Center Director Marylyn Paik-Nicely noted that Rofes always worked simultaneously within institutions and at the grassroots level. "Eric was committed to and intently focused on the project at hand and truly valued the contributions of people around him. He brought people with their expertise and experiences together to collaborate and create: He really knew how to create communities for change." Like his other colleagues, Paik-Nicely spoke to both the impossibility of replacing Eric and the need to carry on his work, "We must honor his spirit by continuing the challenging work of cultural transformation at HSU and in the world."

Eric Rofes is survived by his lover of 16 years, Crispin Hollings, and by his mother Paula Casey-Rofes and brother Peter Rofes. A memorial service will be held Saturday, July 15, at 3 p.m., at the San Francisco Metropolitan Community Church, 150 Eureka Street. HSU will hold a celebration of Eric's life on Friday, August 25, 3:30 p.m., in Founders Hall Courtyard. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be directed to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 1325 Massachusetts Ave NW, Suite 600, Washington, D.C., 20005, or the Highlander Research and Education Center, 1959 Highlander Way, New Market, Tenn., 37820.



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