If Huck Finn and Jim Were Alive Today, They’d Build Rafts for Polar Bears


Jim and Huck, who once rescued themselves, now rescue polar bears. 

By Will Driscoll

If Huck Finn and Jim were alive today, one day Jim would say “Huck, we know how to help those polar bears that are drowning because their ice floes are disappearing.”  And Huck would say “Sure, Jim, a raft!  With GoPro so we can watch them hunt!”  And they’d get to work.

Nowadays Jim and Huck, who always loved building things, would naturally be engineers.  In a snap they’d calculate the size of a raft needed to support polar bears.  They’d direct skeptical friends to a video of walruses sunning themselves on rafts anchored near San Francisco’s Pier 39.  They’d choose softwood logs over hardwood, for superior flotation even when waterlogged.

Being creative types, Huck and Jim could imagine lots of different ways to tie softwood logs together into a raft.  Rope—tried and true since their Mississippi River days—might still be the best choice.  Or maybe hefty bolts, u-bolts, or rebar through holes drilled in the logs.  They’d consider whether to anchor their polar bear raft, or keep it in place with a solar-powered electric motor and a GPS guidance system.

With a raft design in hand, Jim and Huck would make their pitch to angel investors to finance a “proof of concept” raft.  Of course, as the world’s most famous raft-builders, they’d get lots of meetings in Silicon Valley.

In every pitch meeting, skeptics, as if on Shark Tank, would hammer away at the difficulty of monetizing a raft.  “Did you ever consider that polar bears don’t have money?”—they heard that a lot.  Their answer was to monetize the video.

Huck and Jim would tell the investors of their talks with potential marketing partners for the video: The Discovery Channel, National Geographic, the Center for Biological Diversity, the World Wildlife Fund.  So far, all of them had told Huck and Jim they were interested.  “But,” said the investors, “that doesn’t get the job done.”

So Jim and Huck would bootstrap and kick-start their raft concept.  They’d sell individual logs to people who bought into their concept, and buy the logs from a mill in Canada.  GoPro would donate a camera, Google would donate a device to transmit video to the Internet, and Tesla would donate solar cells and scratch-proof armor glass to defend the equipment from curious polar bears.  An Inuit village on the Arctic Ocean would give approval to launch the raft, sharing video rights for the launch with Ice Road Truckers, which would transport the logs.  The villagers and truckers, along with Huck and Jim, would assemble and launch the raft.

And that, girls and boys in this time-traveling tale, is why you’re now able to watch video of a polar bear hunting from a raft.  And in order to finance a lot more rafts, we just need a carbon tax on private jets.

Image: Project Gutenberg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=700846

How Activate Virginia Persuaded 76 Candidates to Sign the “No Dominion $” Pledge—A Model for Other States

By Will Driscoll

Virginia’s election of 13 legislators who pledged never to accept Dominion campaign funds—a tremendous result for a new political strategy—can be an inspiration for citizens everywhere. Here’s an account of the hard work of many groups and 76 Democratic Party candidates behind that achievement, told by Josh Stanfield of Activate Virginia—a state PAC he launched with two other Bernie Sanders delegates. This account is an abridged version of an interview conducted by West Virginia State Senate candidate Mary Ann Claytor, edited to start with the discussion of the pledge itself.

Mary Ann Claytor: Talk a little bit about the pledge that you had people sign.

Josh Stanfield: We looked at the campaign finance system in Virginia and it was so straightforwardly corrupt. The top corporate donor for Democrats and Republicans in Virginia is Dominion Energy, which is our electric utility. We thought, we’re going to have to start changing the political culture in Virginia. We’re going to have to make it politically unacceptable to take this money. That meant somehow entering into the mainstream narrative the idea that this is corrupt—why do Democrats take this money?

A lot of grassroots entities recruited so many candidates, and the vast majority of them were not recruited by the state Democratic Party. We thought, if we get them to just sign on to a statement of what we know is right and what they know is right, they’re not likely to have the party telling them not to do it, because they didn’t come from the party recruiting arm.

So we went to the candidates and said, will you pledge never—no matter what you run for—never to take money from Dominion Energy or Appalachian Power? We made the case to the candidates about why, and so many of them during the primary—76 candidates including two out of the three lieutenant governor candidates—signed on.

By getting that many people on board, then I had a story. Then I went to the reporters, putting this story out, and they started calling because it’s a big deal. Now we’ve entered the narrative, now we have a front page story in the Washington Post, front page in the Richmond Times. We had these stories out there; it became a thing.

Most people suspect, if a big corporation gives a politician money, they’re going to get something for it. No one gives you a bunch of money not expecting something in return. Then it became, oh my gosh, 76 candidates are saying this too, and they’re saying if they get into office they’re not going to take the money—okay, this sounds good.

That was our first step towards changing the political culture in Virginia where it becomes unacceptable—it becomes shameful—to take this money if you’re a Democrat.

We’re lucky in Virginia that we have a common villain with Dominion Energy. Dominion is trying to build the Atlantic Coast pipeline, so we have a lot of pipeline fighters who hate Dominion for that. They buy out our legislature; a lot of people hate that. They’ve got coal ash all over Virginia; everyone hates that. It was so easy to build a coalition against them.

Mary Ann Claytor: What were some of the challenges that you had in your recruiting process?

Josh Stanfield: Not just us—there were a lot of grassroots entities involved. First, the Democratic Party leadership was opposed to recruiting candidates across the state. Then finding people to run in places where you don’t have strong Democratic Party networks was a real challenge, as well as finding people who thought they could run a credible campaign. Then, to compete against an incumbent in the House of Delegates, the common knowledge is that you need at least 200 grand—so you’ve got to start streamlining, running really frugal campaigns.

People run for different reasons. Some know they will not win, if they’re running somewhere where Hillary Clinton got 21 percent. But while they might lose, people will respect the way they run, people will like what they said, and they’re going to run again. It might be for school board, or board of supervisors, and in some cases, it might be for their local Democratic Party committee chair.

Mary Ann Claytor: What did you do to get your message off the ground, because we have a lot of different organizations popping up all over West Virginia, and I always wonder what we can do to get the message moving and get the energy behind it.

Josh Stanfield: We have a network of dozens of Bernie Sanders national delegates around Virginia who were on board with the philosophy that we were pushing, and who knew us as individuals and were willing to take what we said seriously. So I could call someone in Roanoke and ask who are the labor leaders there, and these people know them and now I’ve got a phone number and I’m connected.

After the Women’s March, there was an incredible number of pop-up groups in Virginia. In January, February, March I drove all around the state visiting as many of these groups that would have me, and explaining our reform platform: competing in all elections, combatting gerrymandering, and combatting the corrupt campaign finance system. The way I put it was, “Let’s look for a synergy.”

Mary Ann Claytor: Are there any takeaways that you want to sum up for us?

Josh Stanfield: Yes—become friendly with your local and state reporters. If you have a story, don’t send a press release and expect them to care. Follow up with a phone call and leave a voicemail. A lot of journalists know about some of the dirty stuff going on, but no one’s ever paid attention when they write about it, so they don’t write about it much. If you make it clear to them that people are talking about this, people are organizing around these issues, you might find that you just start getting covered; you don’t have to have some organization with a bunch of money.

* * *
Given the tremendous success of this pledge initiative, in just one election cycle, citizens in other states may consider following the same strategy to restore government by the people, not by investor-owned monopolies.

Thirteen “Dominion $ Deniers” to Serve in the State Legislature, Countering Climate Deniers

By Will Driscoll, Arlington 350 Core Group member

In a big win for anti-corruption and clean energy advocates, 13 elected House of Delegates members have pledged not to accept campaign contributions from Dominion Energy or Appalachian Power.  (Dominion has blocked clean energy progress for years by funding campaigns of candidates in both parties.)

Tom Perriello made the pledge famous last summer when he signed it during his campaign for governor.  Around that time, 13 House of Delegates candidates who have now been elected—or one-quarter of next session’s Democratic delegation—also signed the pledge, according to Activate Virginia, the pledge tracker.

This pledge approach could become a model for progress in other states that also face corruption and foot-dragging on clean energy, such as the ten states flagged in a report by the Center for Biological Diversity.

The 13 “Dominion $ Deniers” who will help outweigh the legislature’s climate deniers include Delegates Sam Rasoul and 12 newcomers:

  • Jennifer Foy (HD 2)
  • Wendy Gooditis (HD 10)
  • Danica Roem (HD 13)
  • Kelly Fowler (HD 21)
  • Elizabeth Guzman (HD 31)
  • Kathy Tran (HD 42)
  • Lee Carter (HD 50)
  • Hala Ayala (HD 51)
  • Dawn Adams (HD 68)
  • Schuyler Van Valkenburg (HD 72)
  • Debra Rodman (HD 73)
  • Cheryl Turpin (HD 85).

Of the newcomers, all but Cheryl Turpin ran in districts won by Hillary Clinton in 2016.  Three of these candidates—Wendy Gooditis, Kathy Tran and Dawn Adams—went beyond signing the pledge to campaign on the issue of clean renewable energy.

Activate Virginia has published a short bill introduced by State Senator Chap Petersen this year that would prohibit state legislators from accepting campaign contributions from state-regulated utilities.  That bill has been supported by incumbent State Senators Creigh Deeds and Jeremy McPike, plus Delegates Sam Rasoul and Mark Levine and newly elected Delegates Danica Roem, Kelly Fowler, Elizabeth Guzman, Lee Carter, and Debra Rodman.