Woolman Semester Email Update – February 21, 2009

Dear Friends,

This was going to be a relatively brief update because things have gotten busy around here at the Woolman Semester, but I could not stop writing. We leave for Mexico this Wednesday, and more projects are underway. I want to give you a sense of how our classes are going and tell you a little about our upcoming trip.

As I said in my first update, we have been studying water and water rights in our Environmental Science class. I mentioned that I was doing a two-week research project that looked at how the city of Los Angeles gets its water. A portion of LA’s water supply comes from rivers that feed Mono Lake – a lake that is over 200 miles northeast of LA. This practice began in 1941 when the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) built a 233-mile aqueduct to carry water from these rivers to LA. By 1962, the water level of Mono Lake had dropped twenty-five vertical feet, and the salt content of the lake doubled. This had devastating ramifications for wildlife in the Mono Basin. Incidentally, though, the falling water level exposed massive deposits of limestone. These “Tufa towers” increased tourism in the area and were a boom to the economy. The LADWP continues to take water from the Mono Basin today. In 1994, environmental restrictions were imposed which limited the amount of water LADWP could extract and instituted long-term restoration goals. As a result of the regulations, the water level has been rising and ecosystems have been regenerating.

We presented our research to the entire community on Wednesday. Other groups talked about how dams on the local Yuba River are restricting salmon migration, contamination of the Mississippi River, the depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer in the Midwest, the Three Gorges Dam in China, and the Saddam River in Iraq.

In Peace Studies (English), we are continuing to look at nonviolence. A week ago, we watched A Force More Powerful – a documentary about nonviolent movements in India, South Africa, Denmark, and Nashville. This weekend, we are each writing creative nonfiction stories about a nonviolent struggle. I am writing about the protests that occurred during the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul. While it may not be classified as a mass movement, nonviolent tactics were used. My protagonist is a young photojournalist who goes to St. Paul to cover the protests. He has never participated in peaceful resistance before and gets involved in the anti-war community. I have to write more tomorrow; it is due Monday.

World Issues continues to be a class focused on economics. After we had our crash course in capitalism that I wrote about in my first update, we looked at the nineteenth century rubber trade in the Congo. We based our discussions on the book, King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa. This week, we studied modern day consumerism. On Thursday, we all went to Kmart to look at that part of our culture. Of course, we did not find any products that were made in the United States. I noticed that a majority of the merchandise was made “for the Kmart Corporation.” This shows how much dominance Kmart has on the market. We had to answer the question: how many of the products in Kmart are necessities? I argued that very few are essential for survival. We also looked at product placement and other advertising techniques.

As part of the World Issues curriculum, we are going to Mexico for a ten-day learning trip. We will look at issues of immigration and border crossing as well as labor conditions in Mexico. I will write more about the trip in my next update.

The day after we return from Mexico, I fly back to Philadelphia for my vacation. It will be great to see people back home. I hope you are all well.