"Edupunk," one of 2008's official buzzwords, means someone who is self-educated, "without concern for schools, corporations, or governments." I shall now describe Mickey Z as a hyper-stone-uber-megalo "edupunk." Mickey, née Michael Zezima, is a 48-year-old working-class writer, martial artist, vegan, public speaker, and environmental activist who lives in The People's Republic of Astoria, Queens. He's just published his 6th book, No Innocent Bystanders, so we sat down to discuss it:
MZ: No Innocent Bystanders is the culmination of years of articles, essays, blog-posts I wrote while my mom was very ill. She passed away earlier this year. I began to feel that if I put some of these together, they might become a book.
People who run websites have said to me, "I'm not going to post this or that article because you're blaming the victim." But I tend to see the victims as the people under the bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan, as opposed to Americans paying for those bombs but choosing to ignore how their tax dollars are spent -- not excluding myself.
As our situation becomes more drastic, I find my writing becoming less forgiving, hence the title. A lot of people say, "Well, people just don't know," but there comes a point where you have to ask, "When are we going to try to make a difference?"
MZ: Actually, people who lived in Germany in 1936 had far more of an excuse to say, "I didn't know what was going on" than today, with the Internet and cable TV. In this day and age, one click on your mouse, and you can see the direct cost of our actions, our inactions, our silence. You wonder what it's going to take before people begin to step up.
SD: But how do you step up? That's the huge question.
It's great to have diversions, but how do we explain this inactivity, when we know the information? It's amazing how many people on the Left can have a detailed knowledge of, say, what Bush and Cheney did, but not a knowledge of 80% of the world's forests, or 90% of the large fish in the ocean, being gone -- something like that is too huge to confront.
They'll come out and protest for impeachment -- which is valuable; I'm not denigrating people who put out these efforts, and I think every bit of solidarity has some value -- but people keep following the same protest paradigms. The stakes are higher, and the other side learned better than the activists how to co-opt dissent; how to commodify it. There's no greater example of that than of President Barack Obama.
But there are lifestyle choices. A recent article I did talks about how a person wakes up in the morning and flicks on a light, never thinking where the electricity comes from. I give talks about how companies blow off the tops of mountains in Appalachia to get the coal, and they dump the waste into the rivers below. It's called "valley fill," and it pollutes the entire area. For generations, people die of cancer, the river is polluted, because we flick the light on to have a conversation in a room. Every choice we make, every single choice, has a cost. We need to examine those choices -- but not from guilt.
People say: "You're attacking my lifestyle." First of all, our lifestyle is worthy of attack; second, I'm saying, get rid of the guilt. Don't make it about you: "Oh, I feel bad; I'm responsible." The idea is to feel more empowered in making the small choices, then link with others making those choices.
"What can I do?" is a common question I get at talks. I say, "Look into your heart to decide what you're willing to do and where your gifts lie. Don't be so quick to rule things out, because situations can put you where you might use a tactic you never thought of before."
Bringing it down to a microcosm: If you saw someone close to you being attacked, you might rush in and violently defend them. In the same breath, you might defend yourself as a pacifist or a nonviolent person. But there's no other choice at that moment. That analogy perhaps could help you keep your eyes open to doing things you never imagined you were capable of. Not necessarily violent, but more drastic.