The Zoon Garden Team has officially hit the road – and they’re off to a rocking start. “This week numerous friends and family have asked me how the team has bonded, often thinking there would be confrontation or a lack of cohesion,” says author Jordan O’Donnell. “The reverse has happened.”
Putting eighteen people together – many of whom didn’t know one another beforehand – and driving across America during a pandemic sounds like a recipe for conflict. Yet already, the team reports a feeling of instant closeness, even as they practice social distancing.
“Everyone appears to have become near instant best friends,” says O’Donnell. “The majority of the team has received nicknames, inside jokes are plentiful, and vast portions of our time are spent laughing and goofing like old friends.”
Although drawn together by a politically and emotionally charged mission, the Zoon Garden Team reports already feeling at home with one another. Lena Corrado, the team’s Videographer and Content Creator, emphasizes the safe, connected conversations that the environment has provided. “Spending so much time together, talking is inevitable,” she says. “Those later nights around the campfire, posing questions and having fun debates or interesting arguments has really made us feel closer and connected in very little time.”
As of today, the team is stationed in Charlotte, North Carolina. They are enjoying the artistic atmosphere, educating each other, and, get this: some of them are seeing fireflies for the first time. They’ve also enjoyed moments of gentle connection, friendship, and inspiration. Grace Tierney, the group’s Media and Marketing Specialist, noted a wonderful moment with Jonah Baker, the team’s Creative Director.
“Jonah told me this morning that I can do anything,” says Tierney. “He then proceeded to list 5
things that I can do. This list included: cartwheeling, putting together a strong playlist,
cooking dinner, managing social media, and making funny faces. This insight made me
feel really happy and good about myself!”
Cuteness overload, right? We love to see it. Keep your eyes open as Zoon Garden enters a city near you – next week, the team is hitting Nashville, Tennessee!
A fact of our economic system that many white allies are grappling with today is the Prison Industrial Complex. As defined by the grassroots justice organization Critical Resistance, “The prison industrial complex (PIC) is a term we use to describe the overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social and political problems.”
In other words, profit-driven companies in the United States are using imprisoned Americans (overwhelmingly black male Americans) for free labor, thereby reinforcing the demand for prisoners and enforcing the cycle of racial oppression at a systemic level.
To see this in action, we can look at how the federal government markets its prisoner workforce to profit-driven businesses. The prison labor program UNICOR offers its “skilled” but “cost effective labor pool” with “Native English and Spanish language skills” to private sectors in this marketing brochure.
Today’s blog post highlights three major corporations that directly benefit from this oppressive cycle.
This mammoth retail corporation serves up some of the most competitive prices on the market – and makes a profit off the prisoners it employs. Wal-Mart has been called out for using prisoners to strip bar codes from products, as well as cooperate with and fund vendor partners who use forced labor.
America’s favorite fast-food chain is guilty of more than high cholesterol. The Malta Justice Initiative found that McDonalds uses inmates “to produce frozen foods” and “process beef for patties.”
3. Sprint & Verizon
Both of these massive companies use prison labor to offer telecommunication services. This is done in an effort to keep labor prices down and turn a greater profit.
We have a responsibility to call out these companies and refuse to grant them our business until these civil rights issues are resolved. You’ll find below a list of resources that will shed more light on the issue – study up, share, and speak out. See you soon.
It’s 2:22 in the afternoon, on June 22nd, 2020 – and I am sitting by a river in the Appalachian mountains. These are the oldest mountains in North America. Warm, green, and unrolling across fourteen states, this land is home to countless creatures. Trees ripple in the summer heat. Jagged boulders stare over miles of blue. Owls screech overhead and frogs belt out songs for the summer solstice. And I sit by the river, toes sinking into the mud, watching.
Last week, on June 15th, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. This ruling overturned the Fourth Circuit Court’s decision which prevented the pipeline’s construction, and upheld “a permit granted by the U.S. Forest Service that the project’s developers could tunnel under a section of the iconic wilderness in Virginia" (Gilpin 2020). The Atlantic Coast Pipeline effort is led by Dominion Energy and Duke Energy. If it is allowed to be constructed, this 600-mile pipeline would thread through West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina, harvesting 1.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas every day. It would cross through the Appalachian trail a total of 34 times, causing irreparable damage while disproportionately affecting marginalized communities.
Dominion Energy and Duke Energy claim the pipeline is motivated by an increased demand for natural gas and a desire to provide economic opportunity for the people living in the affected areas. Yet the numbers don’t add up: according to the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, there is no increase in regional consumption through 2033 in most scenarios. The U.S., however, is projected to become a global leader in natural gas exports in the next five years – meaning that it is likely that this harvested gas will be shipped overseas. Further, the economic opportunities presented by this project require specialized workers who will likely be hired from out of state, negating any promise of economic opportunity for the people who actually live in the affected areas.
The cost of the pipeline’s construction is estimated at about $8 billion and according to the co-director of the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic at Duke University, these funds will “take decades to recover.” This shows that even at a basic business level, the proposed pipeline simply doesn’t make sense – if the companies have their consumers at heart, then why not place the $8 billion investment into renewable energy which allows for long term solutions without crippling environmental and public health effects?
These environmental and health effects don’t affect consumers evenly, either. The more populated areas are protected by federal restrictions, so the pipeline is designed to run through poor rural areas in order to avoid these restrictions. The pipeline targets black communities in particular: it plans to place a compressor station in Union Hill, a town founded by freed slaves after the Civil War. This compressor would pose a danger to the health and safety of this community, and is a blatant act of environmental racism. According to a 2013 study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, although 24.25% of all North Carolinians live within a mile of an EPA registered polluter, “41% of residents of Latino clusters and 44% of residents of African American clusters live within a mile of such pollution sources.” The pipeline will also deeply affect American Indian tribes whose land it crosses over: “American Indians comprise just over 1 percent of North Carolina residents, but they make up 13 percent of those living within a mile of the gas pipeline’s route” (Ouzts 2018).
As of today, the pipeline is 6% finished and held back by eight permits. The Supreme Court’s decision on June 15th represents one less barrier. Dominion Energy and Duke Energy plan to finish construction by 2022. We can’t let them. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline represents a threat to public safety, environmental ethics, and social justice. We have to show up for our mountains and for each other.
Zoon Garden has linked several petitions below that we ask you to sign today. We are also linking all the resources referenced in this article. Study up, speak out, and share this information. We need you.
This week, the Zoon Garden Team has been busy preparing for its socially distant summer promotion tour. The tour is for Jordan O’Donnell’s breakout political satire, Zoon Garden: The Decline of a Nation, and it launches on June 27th from Richmond, Virginia, with its first stop in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Each member of the team has prepared for this journey, albeit in different ways. The majority of the team has now assembled at a farm in Virginia, where many of the team members are meeting each other in person for the very first time.
“For the past couple of days we’ve been moving in, settling in, and feeling out the vibe of the group,” says Leanne Weaver, the team’s website manager.
Jake Harris, O’Donnell’s tour manager, has spent most of his preparation time sorting through the tour’s procedure. “I’m on the mechanical frontlines making sure that all the logistics of the bus are working and the bus and the trailers themselves will run,” he says.
O’Donnell himself has been busy with media appearances – in the last month, he has been featured on ESPN with Paul VanWagoner, the Sons of Saturday Podcast, the Red Wave Podcast, and is scheduled to interview with Jeffrey Besecker for the Light Inside Podcast. He’s also been featured on the Travel Food People blog, which is an exceptional resource for travelers across the world. (Seriously, if you like to travel, check this blog out.)
As the team continues preparations, the group’s synergy remains a priority. Tribe Supply’s Media Marketing Specialist, Shannon Nonora, says that she’s enjoying getting to know the rest of the team for “more than just their bios on the website.”
They’ll be coming your way soon – we can’t wait to meet in you in Zoon Garden.
Welcome back to the website of Jordan O’Donnell, home of the Zoon Garden Promotional Tour. We understand that in today’s intense media environment, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to practice good “media hygiene,” and effectively separate fact from fiction. In light of this, here are three fact checking sites that will help you discern today’s current events using reliable sources.
The Annenberg Public Policy Center’s FactCheck.org analyzes claims made by elected officials, particularly during election season. The community prides itself on not seeking or accepting “any funds from unions, partisan organizations or advocacy groups” and their policy is “to disclose the identity of any individual who makes a donation of $1,000 or more,” as well as “the total amount, average amount and number of individual donations.” Their open policy, clear website format, and commitment to equal analysis of Republican and Democrat claims makes this a reliable go-to fact checking resource.
2. Politifact's Truth-O-Meter
Truth-O-Meter is appealing because of its graphic layout – each claim is accompanied by a “truth meter” which ranks the statement’s factual relevance in clear visual terms: a meter with an arrow landing somewhere between from True, Mostly True, Half True, Mostly False, False, and Pants on Fire. The site also boasts a sweeping count of categorized fact checks based on state, hot issues, and popular political speakers. It’s mostly self-financed through Poynter Institute, which acquired Politifact’s Truth-O-Meter in 2018. You can read its most recent financial disclosure here.
Named after a family name which appears throughout the works of legendary American writer William Faulkner, Snopes is a fact checking website owned and operated by the Snopes Media Group Inc. They are “almost entirely funded through programmatic digital advertising sales, paid memberships, direct contributions, and merchandise sales,” and do not accept funding from political parties, campaigns, or advocacy groups.
The thing to remember with all of these sites is that you are aiming to collect facts, not conclusions. Many of these resources are complemented with articles which unpack the information in potentially slanted terms – so remember that your goal is to draw your own conclusions based on all the facts and (although true objectivity is impossible) more “neutral” resources. Happy fact-checking!
Last week, I had an enlightening phone call with Dr. Jonathan Weiler, a Professor of Global Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He and his colleague, Marc Hetherington, have been researching the roots of polarization in the United States for the last fifteen years. The pair has published a book called Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics, which hit the market in 2009. Then, following the cultural and political changes which swept the nation in the years since then, the duo put out an updated book called Prius or Pickup.
“In both of these, we made the argument that understanding people’s psychological world views had become essential for understanding the nature of polarization in the United States,” Dr. Weiler says.
Dr. Weiler maintains that prior to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s, most Americans identified as Democrats or Republicans based on “their views on the size of government, economic issues, and what [they thought] was the government’s responsibility to intervene in economic life.” But because the Civil Rights Movement led many Americans to think of politics in emotionally potent terms, the political fault line became a cultural one, revolving around how people think about difference in an increasingly multi-cultural society. “We’ve always had people with different psychological worldviews, but fifty years ago those psychological worldviews didn’t determine whether you were Democrat or Republican,” says Dr. Weiler.
My conversation with Dr. Weiler and my resulting attempt to write this article has been a unique challenge, because it forced me to re-evaluate my understanding of polarization as a cultural concept. Many of us perceive polarization as a recent phenomenon, one that forms an unnecessary barrier between conflicting party groups and which inhibits productive and compassionate conversation between groups. And there is truth to that – at least to the extent that this deep divide is unproductive in bringing about substantial change. However, the idea of returning to an era free from divide is a damaging fantasy.
“That older ‘consensus’ is a false consensus, in part because it was built on the repression of significant groups of the population,” says Dr. Weiler. “The achievements of the 60’s and 70’s and beyond is the important trigger for why we have the kind of polarization we do now.”
The Zoon Garden effort claims a moderate approach to politics with the goal of decreasing polarization – but this conversation made me stop and consider whether moderate thinking and decreasing polarization is really the goal. If the origin source of modern polarization in the United States is the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s, then it’s absurd to fantasize about the political unity present before that.
“Just look at what’s happening in our streets today,” says Dr. Weiler. “I don’t think that people protesting the murder of George Floyd and police brutality want to just be okay with police violence. Compromise and reconciliation just for the sake of it doesn’t go far enough.”
Read that last sentence again. Compromise and reconciliation just for the sake of it doesn’t go far enough. This is an essential idea when discussing the goal of decreasing polarization in the United States. We should not accept a consensus when it is built upon the silence and oppression of groups of people. Our goal should not be to formulate a false agreement. It should not be to return to a time when we did not discuss these vital issues of equality, freedom, and justice – pillars which our nation claims to stand for.
Our goal in decreasing polarization should not be based in silence, passivity, and agreement for the sake of moderation. Instead, perhaps, we can use polarization as a means to its end – we can understand that this sharp divide is indicative of necessary change, and facilitate authentic discussions with a focus on making those changes happen. We can lean into today’s discomfort in order to educate ourselves about the system we live under.
To begin, Dr. Weiler suggests forming local groups with well-intentioned people in your area, whether they are like-minded or not. “Begin to try to have conversations where you really make an effort to understand where the other person is coming from, why they feel the way they do, and what their fears are. There could be a kind of interpersonal change which over time could have an effect on politics more generally.”
I feel that the Zoon Garden platform can help facilitate this sort of authentic space – that we can build a community where we lean into polarization as a way of decreasing its choke-hold on the United States. We can hold space for different psychological, emotional, and economic backgrounds without compromising our stance on the realities of inequality and oppression that have persisted throughout our nation’s history. We can do better, together.
We talk a lot about polarization on the Zoon Garden platform -- but it's vital to remember that today's sharp division is indicative of necessary change. Equality is not an issue that should run down party lines. We all have a responsibility to educate ourselves and work to build a better system.
Now more than ever, it's important to seek out information that will help us understand how the systems we live under actually work. In that spirit, here are three books white people should be reading now to gain a better understanding of what it means to be antiracist.
1. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
Michelle Alexander's book illuminates how America's racial history carries into today's system, with unflinching honesty and deep, detailed research. By examining the racial motives of the War on Drugs, today's prison systems, and standard policing methods, Alexander makes the case that "we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it."
2. White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo
3. How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
Ibram X. Kendi's illuminating book guides readers into a step-by-step understanding of antiracist ideas, doing so by weaving "an electrifying combination of ethics, history, law, and science with his own personal story of awakening to antiracism."
Believe it or not, distrust of the media has been around since the Greek ages. Socrates himself pushed back against written records because “If men learn this, it will implant forgetfulness into their souls; they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks.”
Today, the explosion of media technology makes Socrates’ concerns look like child’s play. But with each new advancement in media technology, it’s predictable that “discussion and fears [will] follow” (Crash Course 2018). In our current political landscape, those discussions and fears center around the oversaturation of information – specifically the role of social media and biased news sources in using media technology to advance political agendas rather than express “truth.”
Media accessibility is no doubt a good thing. In order for democracy to function, it’s essential that its citizens are educated and have access to information. But in the era of mass media, it’s equally important that Americans practice good media hygiene by performing media analysis. Today the Zoon Garden team wants to share some insight on how to analyze your media in a way that brings you closer to the facts. To start you out, we’re going to outline a brief activity.
Begin by picking a commercial you have watched recently. It doesn’t matter what the commercial is about. Watch it once all the way through, then start it over again. This time, watch with these key ideas in mind:
Gather your notes and consider how these factors function together to create a cohesive message – and then ask yourself why. Who is funding this message? Who benefits if you buy into their idea? Why are they targeting you as a consumer?
Get into the habit of noticing these things. Follow the “why?” as far down as it will go. You might be surprised by what you find.
Further Instructions for Analysis + Worksheets
Socrates, Memory, and the Internet
Crash Course Media
(P.S. – You should practice analysis when reading these sources, too! Analyze this article! We’re not pretending to be immune to motivation – we want to decrease polarization, we want to sell Zoon Garden: The Decline of a Nation, and we want to build a more compassionate world. But most of all, we want to be a place you can trust. We want to encourage close reading and critical discussions. We’re glad you’re here. Keep up the great work.)
Welcome back to the blog of Jordan O’Donnell, author of Zoon Garden: The Decline of a Nation. This is where the Zoon Garden team shares thoughts, resources, and ideas with our readers, and we’re glad you’re here. Today we want to make a little room for daydreaming. Many of you are itching to get out of the house and hit the road, and with each month that passes, the nation draws closer to re-opening. So what can you do now to get ready for your next adventure? We think these three travel apps would make a great start.
HostelWorld is a go-to data base for finding clean, safe, reliable hostels. Enhanced with detailed review systems (with over 13 million verified guest reviews), HostelWorld embraces community in travel. Plus, its reach spans the globe – so as various countries re-open, you can use this app to guide you safely through your adventures.
This is a search engine made for travelers who want to see the world and save money. Just enter your desired location and travel date, and SkyScanner sorts through over 1,200 sites at once to find the cheapest airline ticket for your trip. Not bad, right?
You’ve probably heard of this one. Airbnb was conceived in 2007 when two Rhode Island School of Design grads Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky were struggling to pay rent. The two designed a website which rented out already owned spaces, and since then Airbnb has blossomed into a $31 billion value business. It boasts cozy, private living spaces at reasonable prices. If hostels aren’t your thing, this app is a great alternative.
World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (or WWOOF) links adventurous volunteers with organic farmers to share knowledge, promote connection, and have a meaningful travel experience. This is one of O’Donnell’s personal favorites – along with “couch surfing” and “throwing your phone in the ocean.”
5. Harvest Host
This is a great option for bus, van, and RV travelers. If you need a place to park for the night, Harvest Host is perfect for you. It’s a membership program that connects you to a collection of wineries, farms, breweries, museums, and other attractions across North America – all which will allow you to park your self-contained vehicle on their property for the night.
We know it can be frustrating to be stuck inside – but it won’t be like this forever. We look forward to seeing you on the other side.
Matthew Scully graduated with a PhD in English from Tufts University in 2018. Since graduating, he has been an affiliated faculty at Emerson College for five years in the Department of Writing, Literature & Publishing and the Institute for Liberal Arts & Interdisciplinary Studies. Last week, the Zoon Garden Team reached out to have a conversation with him about fiction’s role in shaping truth.
“Perhaps because of my training in literary studies, I always approach questions of interpreting the media and ‘truth’ in terms of the problem of reading,” says Scully. “In any given reading encounter, the reader might interpret the object being read in any number of ways. There is rarely (if ever) just one, ‘correct’ reading. At the same time, however, there are certainly bad or wrong readings.”
Scully maintains that in humanity’s search for truth, the first step is defining what “truth” actually is. “If by truth we mean something absolutely ‘objective,’ or something essential, or universal, then I don’t believe such a thing exists,” he says. “But if we retool our sense of objectivity to refer to something that refers to collective, social, and historical processes, to material facts of existence, and to communities of sense and understanding, then truth becomes more relevant as a category.”
Zoon Garden: The Decline of a Nation attempts to express “truth” through allegorical language, using fiction as a means of portraying material realities. This is something literature does constantly. As a result, we construct our understanding of life through the fictional worlds we inhabit.
“Our relationship to whatever we call material reality is always necessarily mediated by fictional, representational, and narrative structures,” says Scully. “The stories we tell ourselves, or the stories we’ve inherited (whether consciously or unconsciously), structure our relationship to the world.”
According to Scully, these fictional worlds and expressions of “truth” always return to questions of knowledge and power. “Stories not only help us make sense of ourselves, but also help us understand and constitute a community that persists over time,” he says. “Stories are able to reveal to us different ways of being in and different modes of knowing the world. They can reframe what is thinkable and perceivable. The kinds of stories we construct can therefore interrupt narratives of domination and oppression.”
So how can we seek out sources which interrupt narratives of oppression and division? If objectivity is impossible, how can we strategize to seek out information that accurately reflects our material reality? For Scully, the answer involves skepticism, critical thinking, and asking active questions.
“We always need to ask, who’s speaking?” says Scully. “Who is the audience? And, perhaps even more important, who funds the venue from which this speaker makes their claims?”
By thinking critically about our country’s prevailing narratives, we can reconstruct our vision of what the United States can and should be – and with time, perhaps decrease polarization.
“Amidst our ongoing global crisis, which, as is always the case, affects the most vulnerable populations unevenly and disproportionately, it is even more necessary that we come up with better narratives, narratives that disturb the working of inequality rampant in society,” says Scully.