October 26, 2007
Some of my Favorite Voices
It's time to comment on my favorite speakers at PopTech last week. Iraqi-born Zainab Salbi was a true standout. For years, she lived in the shadows of Saddam Hussein, where she captured those days in her memoir, Between Two Worlds: Escape from Tyranny: Growing Up in the Shadow of Saddam.
After escaping from Iraq, she started helping other women whose lives had been torn apart by war. Zainab has so much genuine passion, you want to jump on stage -- any stage -- and join her in her mission.
"What I saw of war is two sides of the coin," says Zainab. "One is the front-line discussion, such as the soldiers, the guns, the fighting, the bloodshed and ultimately signing a peace agreement. War is also the backline discussion, meaning 'how do we keep life going?' The backline issues are all about life. How do keep the schools going when war is going on? Should we all sleep in the same rooms so we all die together as a family or sleep separately and take a risk."
"She adds, "we need to compete not by fighting with weapons, but by feeding people. War is about the worst of humanity but its also about the best of humanity."
And then there was Van Jones who shook the room and left people in tears from laughter one moment and sad facts the next. He is most known as a civil rights and human rights advocate in Oakland who worked for years turning things around for young African Americans who would have normally wound up in jail. Recently, he founded Greenforall, which is where all of his efforts lie.
Jones' focus is on green economic development for urban America. The City of Oakland is expected to adopt the Ella Baker Center's "Green Jobs Corps" proposal this year, which aims to train youth for eco-friendly “green-collar jobs.”
He tells us that he needs people with 'soft skills,' in other words, communications skills, that can move people off the streets and assimilate into an environment where they are able to keep their jobs.
Then there was a personal favorite, Carl Honore, whose book In Praise of Slowness I read a couple of years ago. The slow revolution touts that less is more and slow is better, which has resulted in slow architecture, slow research, slow management, slow design, slow food.
It's a movement, but not an extreme fundamentalist movement asserts Carl. "It's about relearning the lost art of shifting gears and not trying to do everything as fast as possible but as well as possible." He claims he is a reformed speedaholic and that he has comes to terms with his inner tortoise. Hmmm, not a bad idea for all of us to spend more time with our inner tortoise.
I loved hearing and meeting Jonathon Harris, who truly knows the art of storytelling, one of my favorite topics. Jonathon combines elements of computer science, anthropology, visual art and storytelling, to design systems that explore and explain the human world.
Chris Jordan attacks mass consumerism, specifically focused on America. (a man after my own heart). Says Jordan, "exploring our country’s shipping ports and industrial yards, where the accumulated detritus of our consumption is exposed to view like eroded layers in the Grand Canyon, I find evidence of a slow-motion apocalypse in progress."
"I am appalled by these scenes, and yet also drawn into them with awe and fascination. The immense scale of our consumption can appear desolate, macabre, oddly comical and ironic, and even darkly beautiful; for me its consistent feature is a staggering complexity. I have heard it said that in risking self-awareness, at least we know that we are awake." Chris, all I can say is BRAVO for throwing this issue in our faces.
Now we move onto Vanessa German, who understands passion, communicates with passion, energizes an audience with her passion and physically moves with passion. Her mixed media sculptural works gather inspiration from the Kongo "Nkisi" power figures, Mexican iconography, and the many potent, tragic, and stark realities of present day life. And on top of it all, she's a poet, who uses music and her hands to bring you into her world.
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